After I’d finished my history unit, I set to work on a new historical romance. This time I was going to finish it, come hell or high water.
It was, of course, a Heyer imitation. I didn’t realise then that you can’t really become someone else. You need to find your own voice as a writer, because not only is that the main thing you have to sell, but it’s there, inside you, can’t be removed.
But still, following such a great author was a good way to practise writing and make a start.
People talk about writing a book and say they’re going to do it one day, but it’s a much more complex undertaking than most realise. And I personally don’t think everyone does have a book in them, any more than I could have done well in sports or taken up politics. Writing stories is a specialist skill.
Traditional wisdom in the pre-Internet era said it took half a million to a million words to make a professional standard writer. I don’t think things have changed all that much, frankly.
I was willing to write those words, willing to do anything, because the more I wrote, the more I loved telling stories.
Beware! Writing is addictive.
My goal had firmed up and I’d learned a lot more about the industry, enough to know that I wanted to be published by a UK publisher. Why? Although I now lived in Australia, my stories were set in the UK and my knowledge was of English history. Publishers tend to go mainly for books set in their own countries.
Also, simple arithmetic said to me that with 60 million citizens in the UK and about 20 million in Australia, I’d find bigger markets in the UK. Doesn’t hurt to aim at earning a decent living. This idea of writers and artists starving for their art is rubbish.
Finishing my first book took me ages. In fact, it took me 2 years of hard work to write that book, and it must have had about 10 different endings and twenty different middles before I was satisfied with it. But oh, I learned so much. It was well worth it.
I sent it off to a publisher – snail mail from Australia to the UK, still no Internet connecting our world. A couple of months later I got my first rejection. I sent the book to other publishers and got more rejections. They were ‘nice’ rejections, not formulaic ones. They said positive things about my writing. But they were still rejections.
I know now they were trying to tell me that I wasn’t quite there yet as a writer. I didn’t realise it then. Most people who write a book don’t, because it’s such a big achievement to finish a book, whether it’s good enough for publication or not. Most people who start writing or want to write don’t get nearly that far.
After a while I’d put away a completed, rejected manuscript and start on a new story. It was very disheartening, but I’m stubborn. Having put so much effort in, I wasn’t going to give up. Besides . . . it was my dream.
At one stage, my lovely husband asked gently what I would do if I never got published. I glared at him and said through gritted teeth that I’d go on writing till I did. I had acquired another very important quality by then, you see – perseverance (also known as stubbornness). It’s crucial in this crazy industry, believe me.
And of course, during these years I was working full time and raising two teenage children. I also did a Master of Business degree part-time. I marvel now at how much I fitted in.
PS: The first book I wrote was published many years later, after a very necessary rewrite, by another publisher. The first effort had been too gentle and tame, I know that now. The version that got published was a big improvement, because I’d honed my skills working with various editors by then.
The second publisher retitled my story ‘A Forbidden Embrace’, a title I didn’t like because it sounds sexy and I don’t write sexy books. It’s now been republished as an ebook with my own title restored ‘The Northern Lady’ and is selling very nicely, I’m delighted to say.
Anna Jacobs was born in England but emigrated to Australia. She now lives part of the year in each country. She’s totally addicted to writing, and produces three novels a year. As of July 2012, she has 58 novels published.
At the moment Anna is writing historical novels set in Australia for one UK publisher, sagas set in Wiltshire for a second UK publisher and modern novels for another.
She has been married to her own hero for many happy years, and they have two daughters and one grandson.